Open your eyes to what shoppers really see

The concept of ‘System One’ thinking is well established in shopper insight. Shopping is not rational, and many of the decisions that are made, are done so in the sub conscious.

Yet as an industry, we still overly rely on the results of shoppers’ conscious decision making to inform our in-store strategies. Conscious techniques certainly have a place, but as standalone methodologies, they will not get to the heart of that all-important system one thinking.

Whilst it’s certainly not a new idea, Eye Tracking has a very crucial role to play in uncovering system one behaviours. Our eye movements tell a story… something that Yarbus investigated back in 1967 through recoding observers eye movement whilst they viewed the painting “The Unexpcted Visitor”. By providing the participants with seven different instructions (e.g. guess the age of the people in the painting, surmise what the family had been doing in the painting) despite the same visual stimulus, the results in eye movement patterns were strikingly different. Their eyes told a story. And the same is true for shopping…

1. How shoppers orientate

Having eye tracked numerous categories, we know that first in flow is generally worst in flow. When you observe shoppers walking down the power aisle in a supermarket, their eyes look towards the middle of an aisle to make a split-second decision about the relevancy of that aisle for them. As they turn to enter the aisle, again eye movement focuses on the second/third bay in, often ignoring products that are first in flow, unless they are well known, destination brands. It is therefore a risky strategy putting a new product in the first bay, as it’s unlikely to be seen by shoppers.

2. How shoppers find

We often use decision trees to tell us how shoppers go about making decisions and finding their segment/brand in the aisle. However, when we conduct eye tracking, we can add an additional layer to this, by understanding how shoppers visually make sense of the aisle. In well organised categories, eye movements are fairly focused – with shoppers quickly fixating on brand blocks and familiar colours that allow them to signpost key segments. For example, a shopper walking down the World Foods aisle will look quickly at the yellow block of Old El Paso to identify the Mexican segment. In more confusing categories (e.g herbs and spices) you will see more sporadic and intense eye movements – where the shopper is forced to visually work very hard before homing in on the product they want. Understanding how this process works visually, provides a good understanding of how merchandising can be improved.

3. How shoppers really make choices

Asking shoppers what is important to them will often generate responses about price and promotions. Eye tracking shows how important price and promotions really are in the context of what else they look at. We regularly see that price isn’t even read on shelf strips and barkers. Quite often, a shopper will look at the colour of the promotional shelf barker (e.g. red or yellow) and this cue alone acts as the marker for value; telling a story about how the shopper is really making choices

4. Decoding Packaging

Eye tracking can also tell a story about what shoppers need on packs. Pinpointing the importance of different colours, straplines, information points and logos can ensure we design packaging to help the shopper choose at shelf. In a recent study, shoppers told us that health was important to them. Eye tracking showed what they looked at was the words ‘Fat Free’ (rather than the fat content itself which they didn’t read). This level of understanding provided useful insight to the brand manager around how to communicate ‘health’ for this category.

In summary, as Yarbus proved all those years ago, our eyes certainly are windows to perception and cognition, and nowhere is this more relevant than in a complex shopping environment.

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